Resources for Volunteers

Many of us like the idea of “giving back” to our community by donating our time and effort to causes we care about. Volunteering gives us an opportunity to do something that is important to us, learn something new, and meet other people with similar interests. But while some people spend a great deal of their time volunteering, most of us don’t do so nearly as much as we’d like. Perhaps you don’t quite know where to start — or maybe you worry that your arthritis will make any service activity more difficult.

The resources collected in this article can help you address the first of these concerns. You can meet the second concern — the fear that arthritis will prevent you from participating fully in volunteer activities — by talking with your doctor or another health professional about how your arthritis limits you (and how it doesn’t). With a good understanding of what you can and cannot do, you’ll be well prepared to choose a volunteering activity that is right for you.

It’s no secret that volunteering is good for volunteers as well as for the person or organization they’re helping. Volunteering not only gives people a sense of accomplishment and helpfulness but also keeps them socially connected and physically active. And because physical activity can reduce joint pain and increase joint mobility and function, participating in volunteer activities may even help people manage their arthritis. Volunteering may also have special significance for people with arthritis for other reasons. A recent survey found that among people with rheumatoid arthritis, 72% wanted to be more active in their community, and 40% wanted to do more to prove they were not limited by their condition.

If you are considering giving some of your time to volunteer causes, think about what you want to do and what you are able to do. Some volunteering opportunities are suitable for almost anyone, while others are more specialized. In addition, some activities are more physically rigorous than others, so you will want to consider them carefully before you volunteer your time. Remember that there are more volunteering opportunities than you realize — from answering phones to serving meals to helping out in a senior center, homeless shelter, museum, or day-care center — so you’re certain to find something that fits your interests and abilities.

As you begin volunteering, be sure to start slow. It’s all too easy to overcommit yourself, so ease into the activity and see how your joints respond. If you find that you enjoy the activity and your body is responding well, you can gradually increase your time commitment as your schedule allows. You can also consider volunteering with a group of family members or friends to make the experience more enjoyable.

To find local volunteer opportunities, check out the organizations and Web sites below.

Organizations

There are many organizations, large and small, that sponsor volunteer projects throughout the country. The following are some national organizations that may offer volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood.

In most cases, these organizations’ local offices are the best places to start when seeking information on volunteering. If you do not have access to the Internet, and no phone number is provided below, you can find contact information for these organizations’ local offices in the phone book.

American Red Cross
(800) 733-2767
The American Red Cross provides not only emergency disaster relief but also many other services within communities. On the Web site, click Ways to Help and then Ways to Volunteer to look for volunteer opportunities in your area. You can find contact information for your local Red Cross chapter here. You can also learn more about the American Red Cross through videos on their YouTube channel.

Habitat for Humanity
(800) 422-4828
Habitat for Humanity fights homelessness by building houses in countries throughout the world. It sponsors many projects all over the United States. On the organization’s Web site, you can enter your zip code to find a local affiliate and projects that are taking place in your area.

Hands on Network
(404) 979-2900
With many offices throughout the country, the HandsOn Network helps people become volunteers and volunteer leaders. To find volunteer opportunities through a local HandsOn Network volunteer office, go to the Web site above and find your local Action Center. You can also go to the volunteers page for information on how to get involved and even lead your own volunteer project.

Senior Corps
(202) 606-5000 (extension 3)
Senior Corps is a government agency that helps people 55 and older find volunteer opportunities in their community. In addition to connecting people with nonprofit organizations that need their skills, Senior Corps runs programs that help seniors become foster grandparents to children or companions to other seniors. Its RSVP volunteer network helps seniors find and prepare for volunteering work. On the Web site, click I’m Ready to Get Involved under For Individuals for information on becoming a foster grandparent or a senior companion, or for the contact information of your local RSVP program. You can also call the number above for more information.

Volunteers of America
(800) 899-0089
Volunteers of America (VOA) provides a variety of services — including help with housing, employment, and health care — to people in need. On the VOA Web site, enter your zip code under “Find a Local Office” to locate a nearby chapter and learn about volunteer opportunities — or call the main number listed above.

Web sites

There are many Web sites that can help you find volunteer opportunities in your area and connect you with people and organizations that can use your help. Here’s a selection.

Serve.gov
Volunteer Match
Volunteer Solutions

All the Web sites listed above allow you to search for volunteering projects in your area by entering your zip code or address and specifying the kind of volunteer work you are interested in.

Idealist
Idealist.org is a large Web site where people can find and share information about nonprofit-sector jobs and volunteer opportunities. Fill in where you live at the top of the main page to find ideas for volunteering locally. You can narrow your search on the left by to find opportunities that fit your interests and schedule. You can also sign up with Idealist to receive e-mail updates on volunteering opportunities that might interest you.

David W. Golann was an Associate Editor at Arthritis Self-Management.

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